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Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels


by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels Science Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

Those to whom the king had entrusted me, observing how ill I was clad, ordered a tailor to come next morning, and take measure for a suit of clothes. This operator did his office after a different manner from those of his trade in Europe. He first took my altitude by a quadrant, and then, with a rule and compasses, described the dimensions and outlines of my whole body, all which he entered upon paper; and in six days brought my clothes very ill made, and quite out of shape, by happening to mistake a figure in the calculation. But my comfort was, that I observed such accidents very frequent, and little regarded. (3.2.7)

When Gulliver gets to the floating island of Laputa, the Laputian King orders him a suit of clothes. But this suit is unlike any of the other suits that Gulliver has made during his travels, because it fits badly. The tailor doesn't just use a tape measure to figure out Gulliver's dimensions. He uses a compass and ruler to extrapolate Gulliver's measurements. This is the first (of many) critiques of abstract science we find in the Laputa chapters of Gulliver's Travels. The Laputians all like to turn everything into an abstract calculation, but sometimes you can get simpler (and better) results by sticking to traditional methods.

Quote #2

They are very bad reasoners, and vehemently given to opposition, unless when they happen to be of the right opinion, which is seldom their case. Imagination, fancy, and invention, they are wholly strangers to, nor have any words in their language, by which those ideas can be expressed; the whole compass of their thoughts and mind being shut up within the two forementioned sciences. (3.2.11)

The Laputians only know two things -- math and music. But they still argue about everything, because they like to speculate. This sets up an interesting comparison with the Houyhnhnms, who never fight over their opinions, because to do so would be illogical – opinion is, by definition, outside of fact, so there's no point in trying to prove it "right" or "wrong."

Quote #3

By this oblique motion, the island is conveyed to different parts of the monarch's dominions. To explain the manner of its progress, let A B represent a line drawn across the dominions of Balnibarbi, let the line c d represent the loadstone, of which let d be the repelling end, and c the attracting end, the island being over C: let the stone be placed in position c d, with its repelling end downwards; then the island will be driven upwards obliquely towards D. (3.3.6)

We're sparing you from a large portion of this paragraph dealing with Gulliver's mathematical proof. His entire description of how the Laputians use their giant magnet to make their island move is a parody of the scientific language of his day. It's difficult to read, to say the least, so we can see why Swift gets so frustrated and dismissive of this kind of excessively dense, abstract writing. By the way, as we mention in "In a Nutshell," Swift started writing satires with a group of other smart, discontented guys in the Scribblerus Club. The Scribblerus Club specifically criticizes pretentious, super-technical language. So, Gulliver's Travels is continuing an earlier phase in Swift's writing career.

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